Canada’s Federal Court rules for BC salmon farmers

Salmon farmers ordered to shut down their operations on the Discovery Islands in British Columbia are celebrating victory today.

In a long awaited judgement, Canada’s Federal Court said former Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan had breached their rights to judicial fairness when she ordered them to leave by this summer.

The court found that Jordan had “not observed” an injunction that had been granted to salmon farmers, allowing them to continue stocking fish farms with baby salmon while the judicial review made its way through the court.

The Federal Court has ordered the government to set aside its decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, which otherwise would have decimated the local economies of Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities on Vancouver Island.

The ruling also supports the view that salmon aquaculture in British Columbia poses little more than a minimal risk to wild salmon.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association said in a statement yesterday it was pleased that the Federal Court had set aside the decision of the minister to remove salmon farming in the Discovery Islands and has upheld the earlier injunction granted in April last year.

The Association is now trying to assess precisely what the ruling means and whether farms that have already closed can re-open.

In a wider policy commitment, the Trudeau government has pledged to end open-net fish farming in the country by 2025.

Bernadette Jordan caused shockwaves throughout the Canadian salmon farming sector when she issued her closure order shortly before Christmas 2020. She stubbornly refused to back down despite strong pressure from the industry and from some First Nation communities.

Jordan lost her seat and cabinet post in the Canadian general election last year, but the new government stuck with her policy.

Federal Court Justice Elizabeth Heneghan ruled this week Jordan’s order had breached the licence holders’ rights to procedural fairness, as it came without warning or proper consultation and engagement with the industry.

Her judgement said: “The applicants have shown that the decision was made in breach of their rights to procedural fairness.

“The applications for judicial review will be granted, the decision of the minister will be set aside and the injunction granted on April 5, 2021 will remain in effect.”

The decision to order 19 open-net salmon farms to shut down in the Discovery Islands was linked to the Cohen Commission, which found that salmon farms in the migration pathways of wild salmon could pose a risk, as they may transmit disease and sea lice to wild salmon.

The Cohen Commission had recommended that the Discovery Islands be cleared of open-net salmon farms, unless the minister of Fisheries and Oceans could be assured that they posed no more than a minimal risk to wild Fraser River sockeye.

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